Written by Lucas Nwachukwu
While the state of healthcare and education is changing globally as the world battles the COVID-19 pandemic, the Nigerian government has chosen to be ignorant of this reality. In a shameless and appalling move, the Federal Government in the 2020 revised budget, allocated to the National Assembly a whooping ₦27.7 Billion for the renovation of its complex, while the allocation for basic healthcare provision, which is meant to cater for the public healthcare sector of the entire country for a year, was significantly reduced by ₦44.4 Billion to ₦25.5 Billion, a decrease of more than 42.5 percent. Similarly, the Universal Basic Education (UBE) fund was reduced significantly, from ₦111.7 Billion to ₦51.1 Billion, by more than 54.2 percent.
This unjustifiable decision by the government makes one sadly remember the statement credited to the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha, in the wake of the pandemic, that he never knew our healthcare system was in such a precarious situation. It is unfortunate that it would take a pandemic of the nature of the coronavirus disease, for the government to realize how poor healthcare delivery has been in the country. If governments at all levels had established a viable and responsive healthcare system with the needed funding, facilities and effective framework for the provision of sustainable healthcare services, we would not have been caught napping when the national health emergency arose. According to the figures from the 2019 World Population Review, an average Nigerian is not expected to live beyond 55 years. The report shows that the average life expectancy of Nigerians was 54.494 years. It is common knowledge that people die daily in Nigeria, from preventable diseases such as malaria, measles, meningitis and lassa fever. These realities reflect staggering inadequacies in our healthcare system and exposes the nation’s unpreparedness to deal with present and future health challenges. In the Education sector, the sad commentary is the same. According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), one in every five of the world’s out-of-school children is in Nigeria. Also, in Nigeria, about 10.5 million children are not in school. Due to the inaccessibility to quality education which many face, as well as the high incidence of school drop-outs, and the brain drain factor, Nigeria presently lacks a critical mass of skilled labour. Yet, in the light of this, the government that has never allocated sufficient funds to Health and Education, deemed it necessary to grossly reduce budgetary allocation to both sectors.
At such a time of economic downturn, no serious and progressive government will allocate public funds for the renovation of buildings, let alone the National Assembly complex which is a magnificent edifice that is by no means, in an urgent need for a renovation to the tune of billions of naira. A responsible government will rather invest in critical sectors like Health and Education. Government’s expenditure in these sectors is fundamental to understanding the government’s priorities and coherence with pro-people policies. Health and education are universally – recognised rights, to be guaranteed to the citizens of a country. The Federal Government must give more priority to education by being compliant with the UNESCO benchmark of 26 percent funding of education at all levels. This will enhance the proper funding of our educational sector and foster sound education in our public schools. Similarly, the government must show commitment to the reformation and transformation of the Health sector in Nigeria.
Allocation for basic healthcare provision was significantly reduced by ₦44.4 Billion to ₦25.5 Billion, a decrease of more than 42.5 percent
Therefore, recognising the importance of prioritising the Health and Education sectors, which will result in human capital growth, improved healthcare delivery and national development, the Nigerian government should retrace its steps and act sensibly by channelling the ₦27.7 Billion allocation earmarked for the renovation of the National Assembly complex, to Healthcare and Education. Adequate funding will improve access to quality health and education, and this should be the principal objective of the government. The Nigerian Health and Education sectors remain essential to achieving economic development and growth. There is a need for us as a nation to get our priorities right, with our healthcare and educational systems given the utmost priority, so that Nigerians can be healthier and more economically productive.